Why goals and resolutions fail and what to do about it



It’s that time of year again. The dust has settled, the streamers and empty bottles have been recycled, and we’re all heading back to reality, taking our resolutions to make this year better and throwing them smack-bang into 2017 and all it’s got to see whether they’ll survive the impact.

Most won’t.

Despite the fact that most of us know New Year’s Resolutions (or resolutions undercover as goals for those who boycott the New Year tradition in name only) fail, we make them anyway. We’re sucked in by the promise of a fresh, new year every twelve months, and end up making another vow to get fit, keep the house clean, make new friends, or play that musical instrument that’s been gathering dust since we bought it five January firsts ago.

But why do our goals and resolutions so often fail? What is it about vowing to change our lives at the start of the year (or anytime, really) that seems so promising, yet brings with it more disappointment than lasting change?

The reasons for failure vary by goal and by person of course, but there are a few things goals and resolutions usually have in common that make them disappointment traps for anyone wanting more out of life.

We choose unrealistic goals

Have you ever noticed how fitness programs, meal plans, and goal-setting apps tend to oversell the progress you’ll make if you buy their product? You never see a fitness program advertising that it’ll help you lose an inch of body fat if you stick with it for a full year. Or a meal plan that says six months is all you need to notice that you’re feeling better and starting to lose weight.

Products designed to help us reach our goals love to sell us on seeing huge results in a short period of time. And that’s why we buy them.

Unfortunately, this kind of attitude has led to something researchers Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman call “false-hope syndrome.” The problem is that we start out with unreasonable goals (often helped along by whatever coaching program or plan we’ve signed up for), and when we don’t lose 10 pounds in the first month or we give up on our no-smoking resolution after just a week, we get so disappointed that we give up on trying to change at all.

Here’s how Polivy and Herman explain it:

When unreasonable expectations for self-change are not met, people are likely to feel frustrated and despondent, and to give up trying to change… This phenomenon of beginning self-change attempts with high hopes and expectations of successful outcomes is illustrative of a phenomenon we call the false-hope syndrome.

Egged on by apps and programs designed to help us reach our goals, we start off being over-confident about the results we’ll see (and how quickly we’ll see them), only to be left disappointed and fed-up with goals when our results don’t meet our expectations.

The answer: Do a premortem for each goal

Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize–winning behavioral economist, offers us a solution in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Kahneman credits the idea of doing a premortem (as opposed to a postmortem) to his colleague, Gary Klein.

The idea is simply to imagine you’ve already tried achieving your goal and failed, then to examine what went wrong. Here’s Kahneman:

Imagine that you are [x amount of time] into the future. You implemented your plan as it now exists. The outcome was a disaster. Take five to ten minutes to write a brief history of that disaster.

While optimism and self-confidence are important for achieving our goals, doing a premortem can help ground us in reality. When we examine what could stop us from achieving our goals before we even get started, we can identify and avoid those pitfalls, rather than letting them surprise us and falling victim to the false-hope syndrome.

Author Brad Stulberg says when you force yourself to realise everything that could go wrong, “you become more likely to take the necessary steps to ensure that things go right.”

We don’t feel connected to our future selves

Unfortunately, achieving goals tends to mean taking a hit right now (being uncomfortable, denying ourselves our favourite foods, taking time away from watching TV to exercise, and so on) in order to create good results for our future selves. The problem with this is that we’re quite bad at identifying with our future selves and predicting how we’ll feel in the future.

Even after looking back on how much we’ve changed in the past ten years, for instance, people tend to predict that they’ll be mostly the same in the following ten years. Because we can’t predict how much we’ll change in the future, it’s hard to make decisions now that will benefit us long-term. Our present selves and short-term desires tend to clash with our future selves and longer-term wishes.

The answer: think in smaller time units


One method research shows can help us overcome this problem is to think about time in smaller units—such as days or weeks instead of months or years. This can make future events seem closer, which motivates us to act sooner.

For instance, one study asked participants how soon they would start saving for college if it started in either 18 years or in 6,570 days. Other participants were asked how soon they’d start saving for retirement that started in either 40 years or 14,600 days.

The participants who were asked about events starting in a number of days, rather than years, said they’d start saving four times sooner.

Another study found that events seemed an average of 29.7 days sooner—almost a whole month—when they were considered in days instead of months. And events considered in months rather than years seemed 8.7 months sooner—more than half a year.

So if you’re struggling to get started on a goal because you can’t identify with your future self, try considering future events in smaller units of time. Thinking about how many days or weeks it is until your next birthday, for instance, might motivate you to start exercising or eating right sooner than you would have done otherwise. Or thinking about how many months away your retirement is might help you take action on asking for a pay rise sooner.

We misunderstand the effects of our behavior


While false-hope syndrome can kill our goals when we don’t reach our expectations, combined with the progress bias we barely have a chance. The progress bias, according to Margaret C. Campbell, professor of marketing at the University of Colorado at Boulder, refers to a common misunderstanding of how our behaviors affect our progress towards our goals.

Essentially, we overestimate the good effects of our behavior in support of our goals, and we underestimate the bad effects of cheating on our goals.

Here’s Campbell:

… we find that people tend to have a “progress bias” such that they perceive that goal-consistent behaviors (such as avoiding eating a piece of cake) help progress more than the equivalent goal-inconsistent behaviors (such as eating a piece of cake) hurt progress.

The progress bias is so dangerous, in fact, that in a study conducted by Campbell, participants who started out wanting to expend more calories than they consumed did the opposite.

The answer: focus on (keystone) habits instead

If we’re so terrible at measuring the effects of our behaviors, how can we ever hope to reach our goals? According to writer Mark Manson, the answer is to focus on small, regular habits.

Manson explains that focusing on daily habits is like cultivating an attitude of investing your money for high returns—a little at a time that builds up over a longer period. Focusing on goals, however, is like spending all your money to acquire one-off items.

Goals are one-time decisions, says Manson. You spend x amount of effort to receive y reward, and then you’re done. Since there’s no reason to keep spending effort once the goal is accomplished, you don’t bother—and that’s why we put back on the weight we lose, take up smoking again, or fall back into bad eating habits after being on a diet for months.

Habits, however, require spending smaller amounts of effort to achieve results that compound over time.

With goals, every day you go back to the gym feels harder. With habits, after a while it feels harder to not go to the gym than it does to go.

There are some habits, says Manson, that offer a better return for your investment of effort than others. Researchers call these keystone habits, since they tend to lead to other healthy habits naturally.

A common example is exercise. In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg points out that research shows building a regular exercise habits often leads people to also tidy their house more regularly, make healthier eating decisions, and procrastinate less.

Here’s Manson:

I like to think of keystone habits as “compounding habits” because, much like compounding returns on an investment, over a long enough period of time, they can increase the richness of your life exponentially.

So if you struggle to reach your goals, try focusing on building a small, daily habit instead. If your goal this year is to lose weight, for instance, rather than trying to achieve that all at once try aiming for a habit of 30 minutes of exercise daily. It’s a lot easier to succeed at something small every day than it is to build up all the right behaviors and stick with them over a long period of time until you reach a big goal.

Contexts keep us doing the same old bad habits

So what if you’re having just as much trouble with building small habits as you had with goals? That may just come down to context, according to Rebekah Boynton and Anne Swinbourne from James Cook University.

It’s hard to break out of old behavior patterns, they say, because “habitual behaviour is automatic, easy and rewarding.”

Our existing behaviors are triggered by contextual cues, say Boynton and Swinbourne, such as time of day, location, or objects you see around you. It’s these things, therefore, that we need to change if we’re going to change our behaviors.

But we also need to pay attention to what happens after a particular behavior. If we feel rewarded after eating a donut, for instance, we’re probably going to want to do it again. But if we feel good right after exercising, we’ll want to do that again. It works the same way regardless of what the behavior itself is.

“Quite simply,” say Boynton and Swinbourne, “if a pleasant outcome follows a new behavior, you’re more likely to repeat it.”

So there’s a two-pronged approach here: the contexts around us that trigger our behaviors and the way we feel after a behavior. Feeling bored, for instance, might lead us to eat a donut. And after eating the donut we feel good, so we’ll want to do it again. Our existing behaviors are resistant to change because they’re held in place at both ends.

The answer: Change your context to make new behaviours easier


The answer in this case is fairly obvious (though not necessarily easy): we need to adjust the cues that encourage us to do our old behaviors, and the rewards we get from those behaviors, while also adding cues and rewards related to the new habits we want to develop.

“To form a new habit,” according to Boynton and Swinbourne, “you need to maximise the triggers and cues that lead to the desired behaviour and avoid triggers to the less desirable behaviour.”

Essentially this comes down to a very simple process: make it harder (and less rewarding) to do behaviors you want to stop, and easier (and more rewarding) to do habits you want to build.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage uses the term “activation energy” to refer to the amount of effort is takes to go from doing nothing to doing your goal behavior. He suggests focusing on minimising activation energy for habits you want to do often, to make it easier to get started.

For Achor, learning guitar was a habit he wanted to build but was struggling with. Improving his contexts helped him overcome the hurdle of getting started:

I had kept my guitar tucked away in the closet, out of sight and out of reach. It wasn’t far out of the way… but just those 20 seconds of extra effort it took to walk to the closet and pull out the guitar had proved to be a major deterrent…

I took the guitar out of the closet, bought a $2 guitar stand, and set it up in the middle of my living room… three weeks later, I looked up at a habit grid with 21 proud check marks.

Remember how Boynton and Swinbourne said the objects around you and your location are examples of context for behaviors? Achor moved his guitar so it would be visible when he was in the living room—a place he was likely to go to when he had spare time and wanted to relax. Seeing the guitar at a time when he was available to play it was a big enough change in context that he played it every day for three weeks.

Whether you’re trying to give up a bad habit or build a new, healthy one, think about the contexts that affect your behavior, and the rewards you get when you do certain things. Adjusting the before and after of a habit can make it stick more or less than it would otherwise.

Whether it’s our own psychology or a well-marketed fitness program, we’re often lulled into traps when setting goals. We have unrealistic expectations, we misunderstand the effects of our behavior, and we’re stuck in contexts that stop us making lasting changes.

Thankfully, psychologists have done the hard work for us to figure out how to overcome these barriers. They’re not going to the gym for us or cheering us on when we’re struggling to say no to another snack, but by helping us set better goals in the first place they’ve got us one step closer to success.

Good luck to everyone still plugging away at NaNoWriMo!

Separate... but never alone

Separate… but never alone

“Alone. Yes, that’s the key word, the most awful word in the English tongue. Murder doesn’t hold a candle to it and hell is only a poor synonym.”
– Stephen King

Writing, at its core, is a solitary endeavor. On top of all the challenges threatening to crush the success out of creative works, it almost seems unfair that we have to bear those burdens alone.

But such is the lot of writers. Our productive output isn’t about inspiration or muse-motivated moments of eureka. It’s about sitting your butt down and teasing out one unwilling word after the next. It’s about wrestling each scene from the white-knuckled grip of your inner editor and body slamming it onto the page.

Books, articles and blog posts about writing process are legion, and writers would do well to study what individual routines work for successful, prolific authors. But the introverted writer is a habitual creature, so draped in routine and ritual that one’s process is very unlikely to work for another.

And so we invent tricks and rewards to keep us moving forward.

Remember, however, that November is different. Certainly, NaNoWriMo is a chance to write. But it’s also a chance to be part of a community, a movement of united makers intent on creating art and crossing a 50,000-word finish line at the end of the month.

Although the actual act of writing is a singularly reclusive pursuit, support structures like NaNoWriMo are a comforting confirmation that we’re not tilting at fictional windmills alone. Remember that there is an army of wordsmiths out there banging away at keyboards and purposefully gripped pens scratching away in every corner of the world.

We're more than half way through the month. If you need a push, now might be a good time to check out the NaNoWriMo forums.

We’re more than half way through the month. If you need a push, now might be a good time to check out the NaNoWriMo forums.

Write how you need to write, but if you’re struggling – if you’ve fallen behind your daily word count or your story feels like it’s starting to come off the rails – it’s okay to find yourself a broad and welcoming shoulder. And when you do, feel free to lean on that sucker for support.

But no one can write your book for you. You were always destined to do that part on your own.

So close your door. Or put on your headphones. Maybe get up early while everyone you know is still asleep.

Then write. And know that others will be doing the same. Separate… but never alone.

Our Android app and Samsung’s repeatedly regressing bugs in Accessibility Services

Hello folks,

A number of you, especially international users, are affected by a very annoying bug in Samsung’s build of the Android OS. The unfortunate situation is that this a Samsung bug, and not something we have the ability to do much about. This Samsung bug variously causes these behaviors:

  • Installing RescueTime and enabling “website details” causes Text To Speech to be active. This one seems to be mostly solvable through ridiculously complicated systems settings changes.
  • Installing RescueTime (and enabling website details?) causes misbehavior of certain alternate keyboards, especially Swype. Doesn’t appear to be a solution to this yet.


Samsung has at certain times claimed to fix this bug, but it is as if they are using some stub code that contains the bug, and keep re-introducing it in different ways. The bug has to do (it seems) with Samsung incorrectly responding to other apps Accessibility settings, when they should not.

They seem to have introduced the bug in some revision 4.1, then sort-of fixed it in some iterations 4.2, then re-introduced it in other ways in 4.2.1, at this point it is hard to know which Samsung devices have the issue. Galaxy 3 seems to be the biggest offender.

Here is a comprehensive discussion of other app developers hoping to get Samsung to do something about it:


and another thread: https://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?id=23105

and another about keyboards: http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1924208

For users with the TTS and Talkback problem: from what we hear from users if you go to your phone’s system Settings -> App -> All and disable BOTH Google TTS Engine AND Samsung TTS Engine, the spoken text problem should go away.

For users with the Swype and other keyboard problems, we are still looking at recommendations, and will update here. Some users may have success by simply switching the RescueTime Accessibility Service to OFF under system Settings -> Accessibility -> Services -> RescueTime (switch to OFF).

Our current plan of action is to add a feature that detects if you are on Samsung devices, and if you select web site details, give you a warning and a link to this post.




The misguided war on boredom

The other day, a friend of mine said to me “You know? I can’t remember the last time I felt really bored.”

She spends hours a day on Reddit. I know. I see her posts and comments while I’m spending hours a day on Reddit.

We do a lot to feel busy. We do a lot to not be bored. And we have this vast technological army to back us up. Entire businesses have been built on simply saving us from the discomfort of dull moments. No more monotony of standing in line at the coffee shop, there are real-time metrics in Google Analytics that need reviewing! Stuck typing a tedious email? Just take a quick break and check some status updates. Dull bus ride home? There are many apps for that.

It’s gotten to a point where being bored feels like a novelty, or even some weird kind of luxury. There’s just too much going on. Too many people to keep up with. Too many channels to stay on top of. Way too many baby animals doing cute things that have to be aww’d over. Here’s one of them now!

Aww! Look at him! He’s even bored reading this post!

We’ve won the war on boredom. Everyone give themselves a big pat on the back.

Now we are just… busy.

But what if boredom got a bad rap? I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m starting to wonder.

First, let’s talk about the busy-ness. At first, it sounds pretty cool. “How’ve you been?” “Oh, I’ve been suuuuuuper busy, life has been crazy. You wouldn’t believe it.” Sounds awesome. I’m important, because I’ve got stuff going on, and I’m staying on top of it. Except, a lot of the time I get to the end of the day and I can’t think of a single awesome thing I did all day. Hell, we even started a company because of it. I can think of a lot of stuff I did that had to get done, so I guess I can say that. I’m watching all of my company’s social media channels like a hawk. And I certainly know a whole hell of a lot about people I haven’t talked to in years, so there’s that. Oh and I’ve read all the comments (but not the articles) to everything posted on /r/politics and /r/science. My trivia levels are pretty rad.

But in terms of real-deal stuff I’m legitimately psyched about… those days are way less frequent than I’d like. And if I’m not getting that, I think I’d rather be bored than busy. The patterns I fall into are the lowest-common denominator of not being bored. And I don’t think I’m that special of a case.

And another thing. All those quick-fix mechanisms that I use to combat boredom have absolutely wrecked my attention span. I actually can’t believe I’m still typing this post (brb, going to look at cats for a minute).

Sure, I fall into some traps and unproductive patterns. But they’re not accidental traps. Human beings have natural aversions to boredom and unnecessary effort. Lots of companies take advantage of that psychology and use the carrot of instant gratification as a wedge to get a foothold in your brain. That relief from momentary dullness is a terrific habit forming mechanism. Have you ever been typing an email that you’re not really interested in, and then all of a sudden you’re staring at Twitter, and you’re not quite sure how you got there? I have. It’s weird, and I don’t like it.

So, I’ve been thinking about it lately and I’m wondering if the discomfort of boredom isn’t something to run away from in the first place? What if underneath the dullness, magic was happening?

  • I know boredom is a state where habits are formed, for better or for worse. But if all your downtime has been eaten up, there’s nothing left over to be a fertile ground for new, better habits.
  • Boredom can be rejuvenating and energizing.  Even if it just makes you appreciate the things that you don’t find mind-numbingly dull. But I bet it goes way beyond that. After I’m stuck being bored for a while, I’m chomping at the bit to do something exciting.
  • Most importantly, though (and probably at the core of the previous points), it’s the place where you form intent. It’s the time where you can legitimately ask, and most truthfully answer the question “What do I REALLY want to be filling this time with right now?”. And being able to do that is powerful.

And once you have intent, and you’ve been able to give your mind a little bit of room to take a couple breaths, and your brain is coiled up ready to spring out of the dull state you’ve found yourself in… well, then you’re ready to kick ass.

A little boredom can be more motivating than the most effective to-do list or time management app.

I’ve been trying a little experiment for the past few days.

I’m taking ten minutes a day and doing nothing but try my best to be bored and not give in to all those little impulses to do something to not be bored. Now, don’t misunderstand, I’m not meditating here. I’m not taking some quiet time to collect my thoughts. I’m being bored. I’m trying to cultivate that “unpleasant, transient affective state in which the individual feels a lack of interest in the current activity” (from Wikipedia). I more or less focus on the fact that there’s about a thousand things I’d rather be doing than sitting there like a dummy for ten minutes doing nothing. Pretty quickly, those thousand things start to fall into a hierarchy in my head, and the ones on the top aren’t generally the ones that I’d choose if I hadn’t given myself a time-out.

I don’t know if it really helps or not, but it feels pretty good for now, so I’m rolling with it. If you feel like it, try it too and report back.

Building a Better Knowledge Worker, While Improving Your Team’s Productivity

Hi my name is Jason Grimes and I’m the VP of Product Marketing and Sales here at RescueTime. Not long ago, I hosted a webinar about how we can Build Better Knowledge Workers, While Improving Your Team’s Productivity. Quite a few RescueTimers, reporters and thought leaders attended. In this post I’ll cover some of the basics of the talk and for those that prefer the full length video it is included at the bottom of this post – http://youtu.be/kSVIfoT7lZ8

What Is a Knowledge Worker?

Dilbert Comic

Hopefully, when you think of knowledge worker, Dilbert is not the first thing that comes to your mind. For those of you unfamiliar with the Dilbert computer cartoons he is a character who experiences extreme productivity challenges in trying to achieve his every day work. Instead, what I’m picturing for a knowledge worker is someone who spends several hours in front of a computer performing their daily activities both online and off. Could be anyone from a Internet marketer, Software Engineer, Graphic Designer or Salesperson.

And as managers and business owners you already know that their time, is your money – SO

Imagine, Instead of having a team with 1 or 2 star performers you could encourage the use of a toolset that will enable your entire workforce to improve their efficiency, job satisfaction and help them gain an understanding of how they spend their time.

Let’s take a look at this further and see if RescueTime can help you.

What Is RescueTime?

RescueTime is a service that helps people understand how they spend their time on the computer and make changes based on that information.

What is RescueTime?

Why Is Understanding Your Time So Important?

It’s really important, because it gives people the proper information to make good choices and helps them ask a really critical question “Am I really spending my days the way I’d like to?” Once people start asking that question, a lot of fantastic things can fall out of it. People become better at self-managing. They get better at spotting inefficiencies in their day. Ultimately, they learn how to make measurable changes to impact their time in a positive way.

How to Build Better Knowledge Workers

So, knowing what a knowledge worker is and RescueTime’s purpose – How do you build better knowledge workers?

In any scientific experiment where you want to measure change you need to have or create a baseline. If you sign up for RescueTime and use it for approximately 2 weeks you should have an accurate baseline of how your teams are performing.

But graphs and baselines are not enough – you need to provide a digital toolkit with features like Productivity Dashboard, FocusTime.

By providing continuous feedback through the use of weekly emails, goals and alerts. We can provide these feedback loops that help knowledge workers improve their time management.

Now let’s examine each of these points.

Your Productivity Dashboard

Each of your team’s knowledge workers is presented with a customized Productivity Dashboard where it specifically looks at the following information:

RescueTime Dashboard

Starting from across the top:

  • Total Time – per time period (in this case a week)
  • Average / day in hours and minutes
  • Your employees productivity
  • Their most productive day.

With any of our RescueTime products you get this dashboard that will allow you to zero in on the information you want to see and you can print it, or export it to a CSV for further analysis.

Where Is Your Team’s Time spent?

This is often the most asked question from RescueTime users and managers – how is all of my time spent and in what categories?

Where is my team's time spent?

If I zero in on one of the important reports in the Productivity Dashboard, the All Categories report and It’s hard to see the graph at scale, but it shows approximately 10 hours of time spent on email and scheduling that have been recorded for the week posted. That’s valuable data – it shows where the bulk of my time is being spent and can provide business owners and managers with a high level of detail on how their employees are spending their time.

When Is Your Team in the Zone?

Note this is my data taken from our RescueTime team account, with myself selected as the employee.

Efficiency Summary

You may think you know everyone’s schedules and have a guess at their productivity – now you don’t have to guess. By looking at the schedules below you can quickly see when each employee is the most efficient – morning, afternoon, during the week or over the weekend – and you can have all of this measured against the Team’s average.

Taking a closer look at my schedule – I am most efficient in the morning. Why is that? My son is a rooster and I get up around 5:30am each day and start working not long after that. So mornings are my most productive times.

The take away from this slide is: Block your team’s most productive time out during the day and reserve it for their most important tasks.


This is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your employees productivity.


Start timeboxing your activities using RescueTime’s FocusTime feature. Free yourself from distractions and have laser like focus for periods of time. Most of our customers utilize this tool when they are under a deadline for a manager or studying a particular topic – and they use the heck out of it.

Weekly Email Summary

Our Weekly email summary is one of our most popular features

Weekly Email Summary

This email provides your team’s knowledge workers with the following level of details: (Looking from top down)

1.Total Time spent during the week
2.Versus the avg RescueTime user
3.Discusses your top categories and activities
4.And my favorite, seeing how you did against last weeks goals
Goals and Alerts within RescueTime
Goals and alerts are a valuable part of the feedback loops we try to provide our users and managers to make their teams more efficient while still accomplishing their daily work.


Let’s take a look at setting up some common goals and alerts within RescueTime.

5 Hours of Productivity – This is a goal we practice internally at RescueTime and it encourages us to work at least 5 hours of Productive time per day. We all know that we will all be at a desk 8-10 hours a day, but 5 of those hours should be downright productive!

Another alert is trying to keep time spent on email to less than 1.0 hour per day and social networking below 30 minutes. This keeps teams focused on their daily tasks and reminds them to stay on target.

Comparisons (Average)

Another great RescueTime feature is our Comparisons tool. It takes 30 days of data before it can show the calculations.

Primarily a tool used by your Team Members. This is a peek at one of my colleagues account data for the past 60 days using our Comparisons tool. Let’s take a look at the data that is presented.

Comparisons Average

At a glance you can easily see:

How our lead developer was performing on an Average Day, What were the top categories and activities.

It also allows you to see the same data when you can flip between An Average Day, Your Most Productive Days and Your Least Productive ways.

This provides team members with incredibly powerful data about their work patterns.

Here is a report showing data for our lead developer’s Most Productive Day.

Most Productive

Here is a report showing data for our lead developer’s Least Productive Day.

Least Productive

What Do Employees Get Out of Using RescueTime?

So you’ve seen highlights of some of our most popular features in RescueTime, but you still may have some questions for example – What do employees get out of it?

  • Be able to make positive changes
  • Greater sense of self-awareness and control
  • Know that they are spending time on the right things
  • Compare themselves to others
What Do You as an Owner or Manager Get Out of Using RescueTime?
Now as a business owner or manager here’s what you can expect from using RescueTime as part of your daily routine.
  • Know that you are getting the most out of your team
  • Ensure your team isn’t getting bogged down in communications or meetings
  • Understanding the overall flow of your team
  • And potentially increase billable hours

Building a Better Knowledge Worker is Possible!

So more than anything I want you to know that YES, it is possible to build a better knowledge worker!

  • Protect your most precious asset – TIME
  • Create a basic understanding of how your team operates (baselines)
  • Use RescueTime and all of its features to make better choices of how to use your time
  • Continuous improvement through feedback loops (dashboard, emails, goals, alerts)
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What can you learn about yourself from your email?

After people have used RescueTime for a while, one of the most common time-sinks they report is email. It often comes as a pretty big shock, people think they check email a few times a day, and have no clue how it ultimately ends up eating up 30-40% of their time. Since it can be such a black hole, it’s probably worth trying to understand that time a little bit better, right?

Earlier this week Romain Vialard, a Google Apps Script Top Contributor, released Gmail Meter, a Google Apps script that will scan your inbox and create a report showing a bunch of interesting insights. You can find out things like:

  • How many conversations (email threads) did you have last month?
  • What hours of the day are you most active in email?
  • What days of the week do you send or receive the most emails?
  • How long does it take you to respond?

And a whole bunch more.

The installation was a little weird (you have to create a Google Docs spreadsheet, then install the script into it), but once it was set up and generated the report, I immediately learned a bunch of things that I wasn’t aware of before.

For instance, I send the more emails on Monday and Friday by a large margin. That sort of makes sense, but my RescueTime data shows that I spend a pretty consistent amount of time in email every day during the work week. That begs the question “what am I doing in email Tuesday-Thursday that’s taking up so much time?” I also found that I can DRAMATICALLY reduce my incoming email volume if I just stop about 6 or 7 automated emails that quite honestly I don’t really have much use for. Bringing down the size of my inbox will hopefully lead to less time that I have to spend in it.

It’s something I’d personally like to dig quite a bit deeper on when I get some spare time. Stephen Wolfram did an exploration of more than 20 years of his email history, and it revealed some really interesting insights, not just about his communication patterns, but about his life in general.

Unfortunately, as the name implies, Gmail Meter only works with Gmail.

Have you used any tools to understand your email usage?

What outside factors affect your productivity?

Around the RescueTime offices, we’ve been talking a lot lately about the external factors that influence your time on the computer. RescueTime is pretty good at helping you understand what you’ve been doing, but there’s a bit of a blank spot when it comes to the question “why were you doing it?”

Last week, I saw this tweet by one of our users:

A similar sentiment is echoed in this article from the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks ago, which poses questions like:

“Suppose they (workers) could tell how much an afternoon workout boosts their productivity, or how much a stressful meeting raises their heart rate.”

It got me thinking about all the different data streams that are currently piling up around our activities, and how there’s probably a ton of interesting information that jumps out if you can mash them all together. It’s getting easier and easier to amass these piles of data, but unfortunately they tend to be fairly siloed off. Here’s a few that seem really interesting to me:

Physical activity:

I’ve used a Fitbit to track more or less every step I’ve taken over the past 2 years (just about 6 million steps). Lately I’ve been using it to keep a really close eye on the time I spend sitting (turns out it’s WAY more than I’d like). I’ve noticed a somewhat counter-intuitive insight with my RescueTime data. I actually do more fulfilling work on days when I’m the most active.


I’ve tracked as much of my music listening history as possible since sometime in mid-2005. I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet, but I’d love to do some analysis and see how my activities impact my listening habits, of vice versa.

Sleep cycle:

There’s a bunch of devices that have come out recently to measure your sleep. Everything from free apps you can download on your phone to headbands that monitor your brainwaves. Personally, I use my Fitbit. It comes with a wrist-strap that you wear while you’re sleeping that measures your movement. I learned that I don’t really sleep as much as I’d like. I haven’t uncovered any unexpected insights about how that affects the rest of my behavior… yet.


This one isn’t so much a personal data stream, but there’s ample data out there, and I think it’s pretty interesting. Especially living in Seattle with the long, dreary winters.

What data sources about yourself would you like to see mashed up? What do you think you would learn from it?